It was a concert of hardcore favourites, to be sure, featuring Tchaikovsky, Chopin and Prokofiev, with its two Russian takes on
neatly coinciding with this year's Shakespeare celebrations.
Yet, in Garry Walker, Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra had just the conductor to lift what could have been a predictable programme into something of an altogether higher order.
The evening set off strongly with Tchaikovsky's popular overture-fantasy; its dark opening chorale was crisply ominous, its syncopated strife theme evoking a palpable sense of emotional and physical conflict.
Best of all, the theme of the young lovers never failed to soar, appropriately so for a concert titled The Greatest Love.
Two years ago, Alexander Gavrylyuk played Rachmaninov with the APO; tonight, the Ukrainian pianist's account of Chopin's F minor Concerto was so incandescent that the work's numerous compositional awkwardnesses simply vanished in his wake.
Walker offered him challenges, bringing out unexpected tensions in the opening pages, but Gavrylyuk countered with the purest balm, drawing the players into his glittering dream world, until they were released in Chopin's infectiously dancing finale.
The soloist's encore was the first of Schumann's Kinderszenen pieces, ideal in its simplicity and poetry.
After interval, a suite from Prokofiev's 1935 ballet returned us to the Bard's doomed young lovers.
There were crowd-pleasing choices, such as the opening Montagues and Capulets, but less familiar pieces, including the gleaming musical box of Aubade and an encounter with Juliet's gruff, garrulous nurse, brilliantly showcased an ingenious composer and an assured orchestra.
What: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
Where: Auckland Town Hall